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Lewiston steamboat ordered to weigh anchor

By Sandra L. Lee
Lewiston Morning Tribune

The steamboat Jean can't stay where it is near South Way Boat Ramp because it's a liability for the nation's taxpayers, Dutch Meier of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday at Lewiston.

The corps is simply the property manager for the taxpayers, he said. As representative and property manager, the corps has to be careful of the risks that are passed down to the taxpayers.

For the owner, Vernon Wilson of Lewiston, to keep the Jean adjacent to the levee, another governmental entity would have to lease a site from the corps and sublease it to Wilson. Subleases are subject to corps approval, Meier said.

Meier, who is based at the corps' Walla Walla District headquarters, and Rebecca Minor, resource manager at the Clarkston corps office, visited the makeshift moorage Tuesday where the Jean has been tied up for 11 months.

Minor gave Wilson permission last year to hold the 171-foot-long boat there, inside the shoulder of the marina, until the Snake River's level dropped enough to float beneath Interstate Bridge.

A year later, with water levels down and spring runoff approaching again, the boat still is there.

Wilson, aided last May by several friends and jetboat operators, used the high water to float the Jean out of the Asotin Marina where a sandbar stranded it during most flows.

Last year's permission was in the spirit of neighborliness, Minor said.

But it was never an enduring agreement, Meier added.

It was intended to be a week or two.

Now, they say, Wilson doesn't respond to attempts to contact him.

The Tribune was unable to reach Wilson Tuesday.

He contacted the city of Lewiston about 10 days ago, Parks and Recreation Director Lynn C. Moss said. He was under the impression the city was interested in leasing the small triangle of land to the east of the Jean's bow. But the city is interested in that only as part of a larger lease along the Snake River's shore where the Lewiston Rotary is hoping to develop a park.

"I told him the city currently has no desire to be involved in the preservation, operation, or maintenance of the steamboat Jean," Moss said.

Wilson went to the Nez Perce County Commission Monday with a similar request to help keep the Jean at or near where it lies now by leasing property.

Commissioner Ronald Wittman said Tuesday the three commissioners haven't talked about whether they want to go so far as writing a letter to the corps about what would be involved.

At the county's waterways committee meeting Tuesday, another corps employee said the Jean is damaging the levee because the large concrete, Jersey barriers it is tied to are moving and the gangplank to the boat has dug into the bank, Wittman said.

"We're always willing to talk about leases," Meier said. "We're always interested in construction dialogue. ..."

But it has to start with a formal proposal, he said.

At this point, Wilson has been sent a certified letter giving him until May 6 to remove the Jean from corps property, and he hasn't contacted anyone to talk about that, Meier said.

"Once we hear from him, that will be a moment that sort of steers where the progress of this goes. It's important to hear what he's got to say."

An option if Wilson doesn't contact the corps is a citation into federal court. If that happens, the decision-making passes to federal attorneys and the courts, Meier said.

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